Gratefulness is a topic I often think about, both in the context of my own personal philosophy and also in how I choose to encounter and experience the city where I live.
One example of how I think about gratefulness is through a particular TED talk given by a Benedictine Monk named David Steindl-Rast. The premise of the talk is simple: happiness does not lead to gratefulness, but rather gratefulness paves the road to happiness. It’s a basic, yet very powerful concept that has become one of the guiding principles about I live my life.
And while I don’t consider myself to be a religious person, I do find Brother David’s combination of genuineness and optimism to be rather infectious. Basically, even if you don’t agree with everything he says, you’ll still find it cheerful and entertaining.
And in that very same spirit of inward reflection presented in the talk, instead of doing the normal laundry list of things I’m thankful for (or the comedic, snarky joke version of that article), instead I’m just going to ask some questions, and maybe it’ll spark a few concepts in your mind that may be helpful. If nothing else, it’ll pound the word “gratefulness” into your head for the next 15 minutes or so.
But let’s see what we see. Here are the questions I want to pose.
1. What am I grateful for about living in Los Angeles?
Weather? A short commute? That beautiful sunset or sunrise you get to see every evening from the perch of your balcony?
Maybe it’s a favorite spot, like the top of Mt. Lee above the Hollywood Sign, or maybe it’s something as small as living in a building with assigned parking. The point is, there really are infinite reserves of things for which we could begin to focus our gratitude, so ask yourself, what are yours?
“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”
-Brother David Steindl-Rast
2. What opportunities do I have here that I wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world?
For Brother David every moment is an opportunity, and in Los Angeles opportunity is virtually limitless. Why do you think so many people move here in the first place?
So then I say ask yourself, what can you do here that you wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else in the world? In any given moment, what do you have access to that can make your life better and propel to towards your goals and dreams? It’s amazing how much this exercise can reframe your attitude in a positive way and wash away some of the negativity that may be pervading your life.
And remember, like the monk says, you can’t be grateful for everything. Bad shit happens. People die, jobs are lost, projects fail, relationships splinter.
But even in times of difficulty, heartache, or loss, there’s still opportunities that abound, whether it’s to learn from our mistakes, find inner strength, or begin anew again.
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
3. Am I taking time to stop and smell the proverbial roses?
One of the things I really like about Brother David’s talk above is the notion that we need to live in a constant cycle of evaluation and action.
He calls it Stop-Look-Go, others might term it self-awareness or mindfulness. I like this not only because it teaches us to appreciate the little things, but also because I’m a firm believer that when we learn to take account and be aware of our own feelings, desires and thoughts, it helps us shape the world in a way that’s aligned with how we want to live.
“Mindfulness has helped me succeed in almost every dimension of my life. By stopping regularly to look inward and become aware of my mental state, I stay connected to the source of my actions and thoughts and can guide them with considerably more intention.”
4. Who are the people I’m most thankful for meeting in L.A.?
Maybe you’re a lifelong angeleno who has grown up with your best friends never living further than a few miles away, or maybe you’re a transplant who had to completely start over when you moved to L.A. to pursue your passion.
Whatever your situation, there’s always people in our lives who make a big difference, providing friendship, counsel, and love when we need it most. Who are those people in your life? Just as importantly, have you told them lately about what they mean to you?
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
5. What do I want to do next?
Remember that it’s the attitudes you hold deepest that will precipitate all actions, so take care to tend to those attitudes diligently. Hopefully asking a few of the above queries will help guide you down that path and may even improve how you experience living in L.A. (though I can’t promise you’ll start loving your rush-hour commute).
Once you’ve framed up your life by considering the things you’re thankful for and the opportunities you have, the next step is always to take action. After all the mindful thinking and exercises in gratitude you finally have ask yourself: What’s next?
Hopefully it’ll be something good. 🙂
“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”